Gardening Question of the Day

Some of my tomato plant leaves have turned dark brown and have rings on them. Is this blight?

Yes, you are no doubt suffering from early blight, which comes on in humid weather. It's a fungus that can last the winter on diseased plants. After you harvest the tomatoes (assuming you get fruits on these vines), destroy or discard all the infected plants. Meanwhile, you can spray them with a fungicide that won't cure the disease but will protect any new foliage. Ask at your nursery for the fungicide that will work best in your area.

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    I am a new gardener and have seen the term "manure tea." Can you tell me what it is, where to get it, and how to use it?

    You make it yourself. Here's the recipe. Fill a large trash can two-thirds full of water. Add 2 large buckets of chicken manure and let steep for several hours. Stir with a hoe until it is murky. Ladle the "tea" around vegetables or flowers. Old-timers claim that this drink will prevent tomato blight, and it's a great multi-purpose fertilizer.

    How much water should I give my shrubs and trees?

    Your trees and shrubs need watering, just like everything else growing in your yard, especially in periods of little rain. Watering cools them off in hot weather and helps the plants absorb nutrients from the soil, as well as make their own food. Don't get overzealous, however. Wait for signs of water stress, including wilting and loss of leaves. Here's a rule of thumb for watering: Give your trees an inch of water every two weeks if you've had less than an inch of rain. Try to saturate the soil all at once, so the water goes deep. To monitor your watering, use a sprinkler and place an empty tuna can nearby. When the can is full of water, empty it and then fill again. Two fills will ensure adequate soil saturation. Water in the early morning or late evening to avoid quick evaporation.

    I grow cantaloupes in Florida but they always taste bland. What is the problem?

    If you've had an exceptional amount of rainfall during the ripening stage, this could cause the bland fruit. It also depends on which variety you're growing. You should consult with your local extension office to see which varieties they recommend for your area. There are ones that can be very sweet, but also too susceptible to mildew or other disease. Some less sweet varieties have greater disease resistance, so you may have to experiment before getting just the right variety.

    How can I tell when my pears are ready to be picked?

    Pears need to be picked while they are still green rather than waiting for them to ripen on the tree. Here are a few hints from the experts to determine ripeness. First, observe any changes in the color and size of the fruit. When the dots on the skin of the pear (lenticels) begin to contrast with the rest of the skin, harvesttime is near. Pears are ready to be picked when there is a slight give on the surface near the stem. You can also check the color of the seeds. If the seeds are light, the pears are immature. If they are dark brown, the pears are ready for harvesting. Once harvested, pears should be stored in a cool (34 to 40 degrees F) place for about a week. Then bring them to room temperature for a few days before eating.

    I'm tired of replanting vegetables every year. What are the best perennial vegetables I can grow?

    Start with asparagus, horseradish, Jerusalem artichoke, lovage, and rhubarb, and you may have a bountiful harvest for up to 20 years without having to replant them.

    What can I do about potted cucumbers that are dying from mildew on the leaves?

    Powdery mildew is caused by the fungus Erysiphe cichoracearum. It attacks cucumbers, muskmelons, squash, gourds, watermelons, and pumpkins. In dry seasons, the mildew can cause premature death of the leaves. When most of the foliage is attacked, the plant is weakened and the fruit ripens prematurely. Fungicide applications should begin at the first sign of powdery mildew and again after ten days.

    Should I stake my Chinese pea pods as they grow?

    Since snow peas like these grow in bush form, you shouldn't have to stake them. This cool-weather crop will quickly go to seed in some areas of the country, however, so you may want to plant them again for a late-summer harvest. Water your plants early in the day until the weather gets very hot, then wait for early evening.

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